What’s red and white and has buzz all over it? Onion pollination in Riverina, Victoria of course!
Onions grown for seed are quite a sight-long rows of green stems with tufted white inflorescences (a group of flowers) on top. In order for these inflorescences to shoot up in early summer making flowers and seeds, the onion plant has to be chilled for about a month during the winter. Without adequate chilling, onion flower development will be poor with low seed set.
Two different “types” of onions are planted in these rows. About 9 rows contain male sterile plants that produce only nectar and no pollen. These are alternated with 1-3 rows of male fertile plants that contain both nectar and pollen.
Honey bees collect both nectar and pollen from onion flowers but only nectar foragers will visit both male sterile and male fertile flowers providing cross pollination essential for hybrid seed production. This nectar is extremely high in potassium sometimes making the nectar unpalatable to bees.
Without the great efforts of bees and beekeepers, French onion soup wouldn’t be quite as tasty.
To find out more about onion pollination check out these sites: